Most Saturdays, I try to post comments on the book I’m working through (the current study, from the New Testament, is on Hebrews). Today, though, Epiphany, which we celebrate tomorrow, and which ends the 12 days of Christmas, is on my mind.
Epiphany roughly translated comes out as ‘manifestation’, and in the context of the Church calendar, has to do especially with the appearance of God in human form. The story illustrating Epiphany centers on the magi, and their visit to the house in Bethlehem (for the Biblical telling of this tale, see Matthew 2:1-12). We focus on their journey, try to figure out where they came from, are fascinated with what they brought.
But the word–epiphany–tells us more. Built on the Greek noun phaino–for ‘light’–it conveys the notion of illumination, suggesting that rather than giving center stage to the kings who travel, we might better consider the God who reveals. And when we do that? All manner of things open up–like how God wants to be known, makes space for those who come from far away, widens understanding.
Our celebrations of Christmas are full of light (think about the streets you drive through full of bright houses, the tree you decorate, the candles you light at Advent)–for good reason: at the center of Christmas is the one who shines in the darkness (to quote John’s take on epiphany…). The tension between light and darkness is one we feel in various ways; it is a preoccupation of artists, too. From Harvey Dent’s speech about Gotham’s woes to Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro to Florence and the Machine’s Shake it Out*, the pushing back of dark by light is of great interest.
So, while Epiphany might signal the end of Christmas, it is also reminding us that a new day is dawning, and that night is on the wane.
*And one more: Mumford & Sons, Lover of the Light…